Elisabeth Franziska Catherina Anna SCHRAGMÜLLER (1887-1940) later called herself simply Elsbeth. The world knew her as das Fräulein Doktor, demoiselle docteur: That’s how she introduced herself to the spies she lead.
Dr. SCHRAGMÜLLER was the only female intelligence officer in the Kaiserliche Armee. A lot of nonsene was written about her and she became a figure of fiction, and a kind of projection area for (male) phantasies of any kind. To make some points clear from the beginning, Elsbeth was no active spy in the sense that she would go to foreign countries and look for regiments moving or such. She received no Iron Cross, but nearly all of her colleagues of Kriegsnachrichtenstelle Antwerpen got one. She had no flaming affairs with moustached mysterymen and never jumped over the infamous electric fence the German military erected at the border to neutral Netherlands 1915.
She was a professional and highly effective spymaster.
There is no actual and comprehensive history of German Intelligence in the Great War for various reasons, they are explained here. (See here too.) One reason is to be seen in the course of history itself through the 20th century. The Historical Science does not float in a bubble but it is always dependent on the social surroundings and developments of the society. In the 1920s contemporary history in Germany was written as apologetic narration to proof Germany’s “innocence” to the “outbreak” of the war; the nationalsocialistic university history wrote clearly ideological statements and after WWII, given the continuity of institutions and personal, writing military history was not en vogue. Exempt was only the pure military history (division a moved to place b), but there were also apologetic subtones.
A second reason is that as a result of a bombardement just short before the war’s end the military archive in Berlin that contained the sources for such a history burnt out.
Only after 1989 new sources appeared which could shed new light on Elsbeth’s life. Russian archives prior untouchable, unreachable or even unheard of, popped up and opened themselves reluctantly for scientific users. There is still much to discover, and I really regret that I did not learn Russian when I had a chance to.
The most important source for Elsbeth’s life is the file on Oberst Walter NICOLAI (ger.), whom the Red Army kidnapped after 1945. Oberst NICOLAI was a very interesting person, head of Abteilung III b and Elsbeth’s chief.
To be continued.